It's been more than 20 years since Lexus introduced the world to crossover luxury, and still few can match the RX for comfort, utility, durability, and value.
Oh, sure, others offer superb midsize SUVs, like the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Mercedes GLE-Class, and Maserati Levante, but they cost a lot more. In the world of thoughtfully executed, meticulously crafted midsize luxury SUVs, selling in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, the Audi Q7, Acura MDX, and Lexus RX 450 Hybrid are in a class by themselves.
There's a lot to like about all three, and the Audi certainly out-handles the pack, but for our dollar, the Lexus 450 Hybrid wins the day because it offers state-of-the-art safety technology, a full complement of luxury features in an all-wheel-drive package, and delivers 30 mpg nearly 50 percent better than pricier competitors.
To be fair, the Acura MDX offers similar fuel economy and agile handling but lags behind the Lexus 450H in cabin materials and cargo space.
Plenty to like
Clearly, there are many things we like about the Lexus RX. Still, the first impression any vehicle makes is from behind the wheel especially when one pushes down on the throttle.
The RX is powered by a 3.5 L V-6 that has the smooth and abundant power that one would expect in a premium SUV. Even with a high compression ratio, the engine runs on regular grade gas. That's the set up found in the RX 350 which delivers 27 miles per gallon on the highway and 22 combined, which sets the bar for this class.
To that engine, the hybrid adds even more power delivering 308 combined system horsepower. The Lexus hybrid drive system pares the gasoline engine with two high torque electric drive motor generators for strong acceleration and passing. Instead of transfer gears in the drive shaft to the rear wheels, the system employs independent electric motors front and back to provide optimal traction.
When tuning the front McPherson and rear double wishbone suspension system, Lexus engineers decidedly chose comfort over performance. The RX absorbs road imperfections flawlessly. Inside the cabin, it is quiet and composed.
Handling, however, leaves some things to be desired. Pushed hard through a curve the RX quickly leans though not in an unsafe manner. The vehicle is more than competent in everyday driving, even on Texas interstates.
Our tester came with the optional F-Sport package, which added some lovely cabin touches and firmed up the suspension, including 20-inch wheels. The upgrades did not make the car handle perceptibly better; indeed, the big wheels seem to make it ride more harshly. We would suggest skipping that option, which adds about $600.
The point is this is a car for hauling people not running time trials. If ET's are your bag, we would suggest you buy the Lexus instead of a German or Italian model and use the money saved to buy a nice sports car, maybe a Mazda Miata, or a Toyota 86.
Lap of luxury
inside is where most people experience in automobile, and that's where the RX shines. Details are impeccable including form-fitting seats and richly finish wood trim that curves gently up in the center console toward the glovebox.
A lowered rear floor provides seating positions comparable to that in the LX LS flagship luxury sedan. Behind the rear seats, there's enough space to carry up to four large suitcase cases or golf bags. A touch-free power rear door opens by placing a hand near the Lexus emblem.
The RX is a multimedia powerhouse with enough technology to satisfy even the younger generations. The standard system includes an 8-inch screen, HD radio, Bluetooth audio, voice-recognition, a minijack, two USB ports, and nine speakers.
The only weakness in the RX infotainment system is Lexus' fussy mouse pad, which seems to require finite fiddling to& on-screen buttons and drill through command trees. No one reviews this car without criticizing this system. However, we have scrolled through the Internet for owner reviews and found few comments on it. Apparently, owners become accustomed to it. We shall declare that horse dead and beat it no more.
Lexus' voice-command and navigation systems are simple and intuitive to use.
On balance, the RX cabin is richly luxurious and as quiet as an owl on the prowl.
the RX comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control, our tester came with a $1, 865 blind spot monitoring package that included intuitive parking assist with auto breaking automatic headlight dimming folding mirrors and a panoramic view monitor.
The forward collision warning with automatic braking uses radar in the camera to determine if the system should simply warn the driver or hit the brakes to help him avoid hitting objects in a parking lot. I know from experience.
Lane keep assist includes a lane departure warning, sway assist, and lane centering. Sway assist applies a small amount of steering input for a short amount of time to keep the vehicle in the lane. Lane centering works with cruise control to help keep the vehicle in the lane. If one takes one's hands off the wheel for a time the system sends out audible and visual warnings. I know from experience.
Blind spot warning uses radar and lights up a warning in the outside mirrors as well as the heads up display to let the driver know there is a vehicle in the blind spot. The same system will give a warning and display an icon when one is backing up any vehicle is approaching from the side. I know from experience.
An extremely well-equipped 2019 RX 450 H starts at $50,820. Options such as a panoramic moonroof, Mark Levinson 15 speaker sound system with navigation, blind spot monitoring package, and triple beam LED auto-leveling headlamps with washers, can push that past $60,000. In today's market that is a whole lot of car for the money.
Few manufacturers can match Lexus for reliability and long-term value.